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April 22, 2009

IRS Determines Countries In Which Early Departure Will Not Cause Disallowance of Foreign Earned Income Exclusion

In Rev Proc. 2008-22, the IRS has determined that Chad, Serbia and Yemen have such dangerous conditions that if you are required to leave before your fully qualify for the foreign earned income exclusion, you may still take the exclusion since your departure is justified under tax law due to the perilous country in which you were living and working. Interesting to note that if you are in North Korea or  Somalia you will have to stay the required time or meet qualification standards or you will lose the expatriation earned income exclusion.

April 17, 2009

US Merchants and Others Using Offshore Credit Card Accounts - Department of Justice is Gunning for You.

The Justice Department has filed a “John Doe” summons with a federal court seeking the credit card records of U.S. merchants hiding money in offshore bank accounts.

The DOJ asked a Denver federal court to approve the summons on one of the nation’s largest payment card processors, First Data Corp. U.S. District Court Judge Robert Blackburn approved the request Wednesday. The Internal Revenue Service claims that First Data active marketed and sold the offshore services to U.S. merchants and their financial advisors to help them hide the proceeds of both brick-and-mortar and Internet sales in offshore bank accounts.

"John Doe" summonses allow the IRS to obtain information about U.S. taxpayers whose identities are not yet known. The information expected in response to the summons will be used by the IRS to identify merchants who use offshore accounts to evade their U.S. tax liabilities.

The petition alleges that the merchants have opened bank accounts in offshore jurisdictions and directed their payment card processor, in this instance First Data, to deposit the proceeds from their debit or credit card transactions directly into the offshore accounts.

The courts have previously approved numerous John Doe summonses on credit card companies and third-party credit card processors, allowing the IRS to identify individuals who were using debit and credit cards issued by offshore banks to evade their taxes. The IRS is also using John Doe summonses to get information on tens of thousands of customers of Swiss bank UBS.

April 2, 2009


IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman has announced what is in effect a settlement offer for those that voluntarily and timely disclose unreported offshore income. Those meeting the terms of the offer will have to pay back-taxes and interest for six years, and pay either an accuracy or delinquency penalty on all six years. They will also pay a penalty of 20% of the amount in the foreign bank accounts in the year with the highest aggregate account or asset value. In other words, 20% of the highest asset value of an account anytime in the past six years. However, those who come forward on a timely basis will not face criminal prosecution.

Highlights of the offer. As explained in a memorandum written by Linda E. Stiff, Deputy Commissioner for Services and Enforcement and addressed to the Commissioners for the Large and Mid-Size (LMSB) and Small Business/Self-Employed (SBSE) Divisions, the tax liabilities related to offshore issues of taxpayers that make “voluntary disclosure requests'” will be settled as follows:

... Taxes and interest due going back 6 years will be assessed. The taxpayer must file or amend all returns, including information returns, and Form TD F 90-22.1 (Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR)).

... IRS will assess either an accuracy or delinquency penalty for all years (no reasonable cause exception will be applied).

... In lieu of all other penalties that may apply (including FBAR and information return penalties), IRS well assess a penalty equal to 20% of the amount in foreign bank accounts/entities in the year with the highest aggregate account/asset value. The penalty is reduced to 5% if, with respect to the accounts or entities formed: (a) the taxpayer did not open them or cause them to be opened or formed; (b) there has been no activity during the period the accounts/entities were controlled by the taxpayer; and (c) all applicable U.S. taxes have been paid on the funds in the accounts/entities (where only the earnings have escaped U.S. taxes).
The above terms will apply only to taxpayers that “fully cooperate with the IRS both civilly and criminally,” for all voluntary disclosure requests that are submitted to IRS, and are not yet resolved. The terms will remain in effect only for six months from Mar. 23, 2009 (the date that the Deputy Commissioner for Services and Enforcement released the memorandum on voluntary disclosure requests). IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman says that after that time, IRS will reevaluate all of its options, and warned that for those “who continue to hide their heads in the sand, the situation will only become more dire.”

Related memoranda to the SBSE and LMSB Directors describe various penalties that may apply in offshore cases, revoke the “Last Chance Compliance Initiative” as of Mar. 23, 2009, and explain how voluntary disclosure cases are to be routed within IRS.

Those coming forward will avoid criminal prosecution. IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman's Statement on Offshore Income says that those taxpayers who hid money offshore can avoid criminal prosecution by timely complying with the terms of the offer.